I would like to receive feedback about the tone, theme, and structure of the piece and maybe on the relevance of the title to the piece too. Thanks!
Written By: Hari Narayanan
February 14, 2015
A gray flash darts across a new layer of snow, a line of footprints peppering the Alaskan ground that the pristine white powder has hardly breathed upon. The streak continues until it collapses in a minute bundle of pulsating fur, a wintry gale ripping through the squirrel’s subtle frame. The creature shakily rights itself before casting a furtive glance forwards. Just ahead lies its salvation. Just there, is the forest of slumber. The bed and board of the rodent for the next three months. Hibernation will deliver the squirrel from the onslaught of the biting frost, and provide it with a mental escape to repose. A long awaited stupor twirls itself tauntingly before the squirrel, infusing each step to the tree with a drowsy tranquility that goads it to give in. Nevertheless, the critter musters an effort hidden in the depths of its soul to prevail, and hauls itself into its time battered, subterranean home. This hole, despite the void that the mother earth has forged it with, represents the one, solid part of the animal’s heart that ties it to its otherwise detached family line. Not one winter has passed without this squirrel’s presence in the hollow. This is the site of the squirrel’s birth, where nature molded its form from a reservoir of cells. Persuaded by habit and charged with sentiment, it relishes its haven. This has always been a serene place of inner peace, untainted by the hand of man, modified by only the gentle coaxing of Mother Nature.
And yet… there was a palpable sense of dread in the gelid air. There was something different about this year, and the rodent could sense it.
The earth itself vibrates with some foreign force. Uncertainty tickles its spine with a nagging feeling of doubt, but is quelled by a potent wave of lethargy. Just as its eyelids droop over, a high pitched, blood-curdling shriek fills the forest, eliminating all remaining exhaustion in the squirrel. Unbeknownst to it, this is not a sound produced by fauna, but by the dying essence of the planet. A vivid memory of a day long past grips and petrifies the squirrel. Its eyes bulge as it remembers a glint of metal, a careening tree, and the corpse of its mother, simply lying on nature’s cold skin. It bears the mental and physical scars of that day, acquired through a daring dash for escape and earning the melancholy title of “sole survivor”.
Less than a mile away, a robust logger rests his foot triumphantly on a freshly cut tree, as a hunter might after vanquishing his quarry. The man puffs his pipe, and throws his head back with a guttural laugh that echoes around the valley. Despised by creation and creator alike, this destroyer, stands at the edge of an exquisite canyon, his silhouette defiling the panoramic views of the forest of slumber. A feeling of exultation warms the desolate cavity where his heart should be, as he turns around and clambers clumsily into an excavator. He has returned, to finish the job he started many winters ago, to drench his covetous hands in the blood of the universe.
The squirrel's whiskers bristle with apprehension of the new buzzing sound that envelops the space. Its sleek gray hairs stand up straight with such wariness, that they can actually be seen as distinct lines. Powerful muscles become taut, instinctively preparing to flee in an explosion of natural energy. The buzzing becomes louder, until the noise reverberates through the delicate skeleton of the rodent. A splash of sawdust paints the brilliant silver fur a dull beige, and the squirrel bolts off, like a fresh round from a gun. Trees crash around it, smog fills it lungs, buzzing grates on its ears. The legacies of trees who have seen the Revolutionary War are hacked apart in mere seconds, and with them go the homes of the squirrel’s ancestors. Fright grasps the earth in its gnarled paw, pinching and jeering at every facet of it’s adornment. The creature hears the flapping of a fleeing eagle’s wing, sees the pine needles crystallized with ice on the dying trees, senses the beginning of the end. Life seems to slow down, the animal’s limbs trudging through a world of molasses, its heartbeat thumping, resounding into the wilderness. The horrific memory that has plagued the rodent for a lifetime comes back to haunt it again. The world is a giant movie screen playing grotesque images, projected from this victim’s head. The demonic amber machines dance above its puny head with a mocking gait that tugs painfully at the squirrel’s heartstrings. The propensity of selfish men to turn heaven to hell cannot be altered, yet the squirrel thinks not of that, but only of self-preservation. What emotion or feeling was present in the animal has been felled. Its eyes glaze over with trauma, as it scampers to safety. The earth embraces it once again, just as it has tenderly before. The hollow was a ventricle in the heart of nature, in the heart of the squirrel’s mind.
Whom will the animal condemn, and whom will it forgive? What does it have left to live for, now that its hollow is gone, and is occupied by the soul of the past? Why is nothing eternal?